NASA’s space shuttle Atlantis is due to undock from the International Space Station today, the first step in what will mark the ending of the US space programme’s final space shuttle mission.
Atlantis is due to undock from the outpost at 2.28am EDT (6.28am GMT), and is due to land at 5.57am EDT (9.57am GMT) on 21 July at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, from where it blasted off on this final mission on 8 July.
The shuttle’s crew, commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Rex Walheim and Sandra Magnus, have more recently been packing the shuttle with as much rubbish and broken hardware from the space station as it can carry back to Earth.
A robotic arm has been used to move a storage module from the exterior of the space station into Atlantis‘ payload bay.
The crew also delivered supplies to the space station, such as a year’s supply of food and a pair of iPhone 4s to be used in experiments.
Once Atlantis is back on Earth, NASA will retire its fleet of orbiters because of high operating costs and the need to free up funds for work on a new launch system that can carry people and cargo beyond the space station’s orbit, where shuttles can’t go.
Atlantis will be bound for the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center, where it will go on public display.
Space shuttles Discovery and Endeavour are to go to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and the California Science Center in Los Angeles, respectively.
Photo: Atlantis docked at the International Space Station during its May 2010 mission